Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens are half as likely to play sports as straight youth – a trend that has been getting worse for 15 years, a group of UBC professors has found.
In a first-of-its-kind study released Wednesday, researchers found that five out of 10 gay students in grades 7 to 12 played on sports teams in 1998. That’s compared to three out of 10 gay students in 2013.
“In every year we measured, LGB youth were about half as likely, or even less, to participate in coached sports than straight youth were,” said Elizabeth Saewyc, senior author of the study and a nursing professor who leads the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre at UBC. "And unfortunately, that gap has persisted and even widened over time."
The same decline in participation was found for lesbian and bisexual teens.
The study used responses from the BC Adolescent Health Survey of 99,373 kids, and looked at official sports as well as informal sports like pick-up games.
Other rates, like that of young people participating in informal sports, dropped amongst all young people – but by the most in teens of minority sexual orientations.
While the research can’t explain the specific reason for the gap between straight and gay youth, Saewyc said, it’s likely the stigma and discrimination in sports clubs play a role.
Getting more teens playing sports is crucial so they can grow up being active adults, said study co-author Annie Smith, McCreary’s executive director, and maintain their mental and physical health.
Inclusiveness in sports is needed, the study notes, given that gay, lesbian and bisexual teens are more prone to depression and suicide.
"The decline in participation in both informal and coached sports tells us that there should be a range of exercise opportunities for young people who may not want to play traditional team sports,” McCreary added.
The researchers suggest that sports programs address the specific needs of gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens, and that parents, coaches, and educators receive training to navigate issues of homophobia and inclusion.